Each year, more than 650 people succumb to a heat-related illness. According to the Center for Disease Control, heat-related illnesses are one of the deadliest weather-related health outcomes affecting Americans. However, the most devastating part of this equation is that all deaths from heat-related illnesses are preventable with the proper training and safety tools.
Learn here how to keep yourself and others safe while working in the heat.
Heat-related illnesses are those that occur after exposure to abnormally high or prolonged amounts of heat and humidity. There are three primary types of heat-related illnesses, including:
- Heat Cramps: A condition causing painful and often intense cramps or spasm of the muscles, usually after exercise or extreme exertion.
- Heat Exhaustion: Resulting from a loss of water and sodium in the body, heat exhaustion causing a range of bodywide symptoms. Left untreated, this can lead to heat stroke.
- Heat Stroke: The most severe form of heat-related illness, heat stroke can cause coma, seizures, and altered mental status. If left untreated, heat stroke can lead to death.
Identifying the signs of heat-related illnesses like heat stroke or exhaustion should be a crucial part of your safety strategy. A few common symptoms of heat related illnesses include:
- Muscle aches or cramping
- High body temperature
- Skin that is red, hot, and dry (no sweating)
- Rapid pulse
- Nausea, with or without vomiting
- Confusion or altered mental state
Companies in industries that require employees to work outdoors or inside high-heat environments should implement training programs. Excellent examples of training materials include The National Safety Compliance’s Heat Stress Training Course Video Kit and Heat Stress Training Booklets.
Using signage like this Heat Stress Safety Poster can help keep heat safety at the forefront of an employee’s mind. Place posters and other visual aids in high-traffic areas like break rooms, offices, and workshops. In addition, include signage in areas where heat-related illnesses are more likely to occur.
Certain people are at a greater risk for heat-related illness. Learning to identify them can help prevent many tragedies from occurring. People who are at greater risk include:
- Anyone over age 65 or under age five
- People with autoimmune disease, heart disease, or breathing problems
- Those who are overweight
- People taking certain medications
- Anyone who drinks heavily
- Those exposed to high heat for extended periods
- People recovering from illnesses
A comprehensive overview of precautions to take during heat waves and inside high-temperature areas is crucial to your training efforts. The best heat stress training courses will include this information. To stay safe in high-heat environments, you should:
- Wear loose, lightweight clothing
- Drink plenty of water
- Avoid dehydration beverages (like alcohol, coffee, or energy drinks)
- Take frequent breaks in cooler areas (preferably in air conditioning)
- Apply sunscreen when working outdoors
- Use a buddy system, so nobody works in the heat alone
- Try to avoid working during the hottest parts of the day, if possible
- Avoid hot and heavy meals that can raise your internal body temperature
- Use sports drinks to replace electrolytes lost when sweating
Companies should keep a close eye on the weather during warmer months to be aware of dangerous heat wave events. If possible, people usually working outdoors should stay home during these events. However, if staying home isn’t possible, companies should implement additional precautions like more frequent breaks or shorter work days until the heat wave has passed.
People working around electricity, fire, or flammable materials should undergo additional heat stress and general safety training. Individuals working around these materials are more prone to injury and should be given training on:
- ARC flash training
- Burn prevention and treatment
- Preventing, recognizing, and treating electrocution
- Handling hazardous or combustible materials
- Preventing contamination
You can also find valuable training resources for individual sectors or industries, such as welding. Certain professions have industry-specific training they need to perform their jobs safely and effectively.
If someone is experiencing heat stress, the most critical thing is to call 9-1-1 right away. While waiting for emergency first responders to arrive, try moving the affected individual to a shady or cool area. Do not dump cold water or offer ice water to drink if someone is experiencing heat stress, as this could cause the body to go into shock.
Companies should include first aid training as part of their onboarding procedures so everyone understands what to do should a heat-related event occur. An excellent education option is this First Aid Safety Training Course Video Kit, which includes segments on:
- Basic first aid procedures
- Proper handling of bloodborne pathogens
- Treating cuts, scrapes, and burns (including chemical burns)
- Broken bones and fractures
- Heat stress events (including heat exhaustion and stroke)
- Choking emergencies
The National Safety Compliance has the tools and information you need to keep yourself and others safe from heat-related illnesses. For more information, visit our heat stress safety product page. If you need help assessing your safety training needs or have questions, fill out our online contact form, and we’ll be in touch as soon as possible.